when i was eleven and the test for advancing
to the next level of swimming lessons was to go two laps without stopping i failed because the moment i touched the water i felt like i was drowning
like that time when i was seven and my mom was late to pick me up from school so i thought that there was some hideous car wreck or some sort of alien invasion or fatal illness

and none of these things were founded in
any flavor of truth in that small town where
she was always only a fifteen minute drive away and the biggest headlines were about football games and blowout sales at big department stores like TJ Maxx where we bought all of our socks and undies
in bulk.
on sale.
because who knew when we’d grab a deal like this?

but hear me out —
there is something about that fear
in my gut that i have spent twenty two
years trying to find the language to communicate
— if you pull at my tongue harder maybe it will tell you all of the ways it is still scared of what it has to stay —
what i mean to say is that the reason i am
holding you so closely is that maybe the pang in chest can jump across borders the way our parents did years ago with
different tongues but the same feeling

every family has a worrier and this is
not just about arriving at the airport three
hours early, or packing too many clothes,
or calling you seven times until you
pick up
this is about a type of lonely
that we have inherited from
generations of false promises (let’s
call them immigration stories)

this is about
all of legs that i have swam between
too scared to stay still in fear of
drowning

this is about all of the anatomy charts we learned how to draw in school that had no room for feelings
(so maybe we are skeletons chasing after one another hoping that beneath bones we can find all the parts we have been missing)

so when you said goodbye and i said
nothing what i think i meant was that
when my mother left the house on an
errand we were not allowed to ask where
she was going because that was supposed
to bring bad luck, but i have never been
able to cultivate that quiet faith of return
in this world where we find ourselves forcibly dressed as strangers on subway platforms and dance floors refusing to look at one another in the eyes, so afraid of inheriting new creases
around our porcelain smiles

every family has a worrier
who is their own type of warrior
which means that i have spent so many years
battling myself
which means that i will not go down
without a fight.
which means that in
order for me to trust you i want you to
tell me about what the last time you
said goodbye to your mother was like.
tell me your immigration story and where you are going next,
how you have constructed a body
around lungs less feeble than lonely.

which means that i do not care about your
your outfit or your body or your smile
i want you to
tell me that you will always be fifteen minutes
away when i am drowning next
instead.
tell me about your ghosts —
what keeps you sweating at night
tell me about how i make you nervous
tell me about how this makes you nervous

and i will lay down my arms
for you.

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